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Goodbye Costco

Since I’m on a roll with this whole ‘Bulk Buy’ theme, the time has come for me to explain why I’m kicking Costco to the curb.

Costco on a Saturday
Photo courtesy of miamism and indicative of why I’m opting out.

To provide a little background let me say, we’ve been loyal Costco members for going on 7 years. At our old house, the location was incredibly convenient. Just as close as other grocery stores. Where we live now, its just down the block from our gym. We’ve refined our Costco shopping over the years. Now we shop there mostly for staples; sugar, vinegar, baking soda, TP, canned tomatoes, olive oil, beans, etc., With the occasional trip for Mexican Coke and fancy cheeses in preparation for a party or event. The Husband buys 98% of his gas there, as did I prior to making the switch to diesel. This is all to illustrate, we use Costco pretty avidly.

This relationship has served us well. We have the Amex Rewards card that provides us 1% cash back on all our purchases. This easily covers the yearly fee and then some.

In No Big Box challenge 2011 Costco, along with Amazon, were the noted exceptions. My hold outs because they are locally headquartered businesses with a history of providing livable wage jobs, and being innovators in their field. Allowing ourselves to continue to patronize these two Big Boxes, contributed to the overriding success of the challenge in it’s first year.

So why dump them? If this is a mutually beneficial relationship, why sever all ties?

Well, Costco it’s not you. It’s me. Sort of.

Politics. Last year Costco bought an election in my state. It was for an initiative that had failed the previous year in a similar iteration. An initiative that stood to make Costco gobs of money in liquor sales. So, they threw their weight behind it and made an obscene ‘donation’. It passed. Surprise, surprise. Regardless of my views on the privatization of liquor sales, this leaves me with an icky feeling. I know, I know. It happens all the time. I’m not that naive. Show me other such blatant examples, and I will do my damnedest not to patronize those corporations either. The whole basis of the Big Box Challenge is my predisposition to being distrustful of these mega monolith businesses. Costco used their girth to get what they wanted to happen in Washington State. I don’t think they should have that kind of power. I certainly am not going to continue to put my money behind it.

Unpleasantness. I hate going to Costco. The store near my house is ridiculously crowded. So much so, that it is nearly impossible to navigate on weekends. I am not one to rearrange my schedule to get down to Costco at 11am on a Tuesday in order to beat the crowds. I don’t have that much flexibility, and even if I did I’m not going to use it just to go to Costco. If you manage to make it in the door, what is it about Costco that inspires rude behavior? The abandonment of monster carts in the middle of the isle. The blocking of key items in order to have an engrossing conversation with your partner while being completely oblivious to the line of people queuing up behind you who just want a carton eggs. It’s an inexplicable phenomenon in which perfectly reasonable people lose their sense of common courtesy upon entrance. Maybe it’s the near fisticuffs just to get in the place. I don’t know. In any case, Costco is NOT the happiest place on earth.

Mind Games. I’ve read about their marketing strategy. I know Costco doesn’t want you to be comfortable. They want to keep things bare bones. That way think you are getting a good warehouse deal, and you make impulse decisions because you want to get the heck out of there. They take it even further though. By never keeping key items in the same spot twice, they inspire a scavenger hunt mentality, in which you have to search every stinking isle for the organic sugar you’ve bought a million times before, but can suddenly no longer locate. If it’s a search, then when you actually do find it, you will be so happy, you’ll buy more. Every item feels like a quest. They also pull staple items off the market for a few months and then bring them back. Once again, creating this sense of false scarcity compelling us to buy, buy, buy! Again, Costco is not alone in this type of manipulation. For some reason though, theirs seems more transparent, and it pisses me off.

Let’s review, I pay for the privilege to fight my way into a store, so I can search high and low for items I know should be there, through the sea of other unhappy consumers on their own quest through unpleasantness. We do all this, we play their game, and they purchase elections.

Hmmm…

Maybe its not me, Costco. Maybe it’s you.

It’s become a bit of a battle between The Husband and I on who will make the trip. I prefer not to go at all. He doesn’t want to have to fight it alone. And so our trips have gotten less and less frequent. We save up lists. We look for unique window of opportunity. We put it off for as long as possible. The yucky politics? That just put me over the top. It’s not worth it to shop with a store who intentionally makes my trip unpleasant, where I never know if I’m going to find the item on my list anyway. I’m looking at this as another opportunity to cut ties with a corporate entity who does not have my best interest, or that of my community, in mind.

So, thanks Costco. Thanks using the 22 million to get what you wanted. It certainly helped me put things into perspective.

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Comments

Nancy
Reply

Interesting. There’s no Costco near us, but we were members of Sam’s Club last year. We did not renew our membership. Hubby and I are still discussing this. He wants it; I don’t think we need it. He just likes to browse which I don’t think we should pay a membership to do! We did get a better price on cat food, but I think we can still break even by shopping at smaller stores and not having to drive to distance to Sam’s.

katherine
Reply

Costco just ranked #1 in consumer reports magazine. I admire you for sticking by your principles – re: the politics, everyone has their thing. For me, Costco’s good (specifically the good you mentioned) far outwheighs the bad – and I LOVE them, so I stick with them. But the unpleasantness and the mind tricks are things I usually encounter at all other businesses, including grocery, restaurants, hair salons, etc., I frequent, and I see past that. I’m having the same struggle with a particular fast food chain right now. they do great things, but have such evangelical principles that are incongruent with my civil rights beliefs/opinions.

dogsordollars
Reply

Katherine – I agree that these tricks are encountered everywhere. Maybe my problem is as I’ve cut down on the number of corporations I patronize and shopping experiences similar to Costco, their manipulations seem more stark and irksome.

I know Costco works for a lot of people. Although, I find the consumer reports ranking somewhat surprising. People do not look happy there!

Miser Mom
Reply

I’ve been trying to think about how to respond to this without merely saying, “rah! rah!”. I’ve avoided big box stores for a long time now, so I’m not exactly even a little bit unbiased. The problem with the Consumer Reports-style ranking is that it puts one national chain up against another national chain. It doesn’t rank, say, your local farmer’s market. Or the family-owned hardware store. Or the CSA. Or the guy down the street who fixes lawnmowers in his spare time. As you’ve often pointed out, DoD, putting out word-of-mouth allows you to find local sources for things — the trade off is, it’s a lot more work to find those local sources and develop those connections than to just pull into the gi-normous asphalt parking lot of the gi-normous store.

Samantha
Reply

Ever since you mentioned ditching Costco I’ve been curious as to why. We gave up our Costco membership for a year recently, and reinstated it in the fall of 2010. I got our rewards cheque and when I figured out how much we had spent there, I just about fell over. I realized that we were getting sucked into the whole commercialised experience of it and getting more wants than needs.

We’ve learned that my husband cannot shop at Costco – he thinks everything is a deal and always overspends. I kept a pretty good price log of what is a good price there, and what is not, so my Costco expenditures have gone waaaaaaaay down since we started shopping there again.

Thankfully I am a stay-at-home-mom, so 11:00am on a Tuesday is my regular time to shop :) And they opened up a new location near our home that is blissfully quiet, almost down right peaceful to shop at. When were in the city though, oh boy, I totally know what you mean about the unpleasantness.

One thing you didn’t mention that is a huge problem I have with Costco is PACKAGING. Everything there comes in mammoth plastic wrapping, one cart full of groceries and my recycling bins are overflowing.

We will continue to shop at Costco, but I’ve limited it to about a once a month trip now for staples, and mostly their organic offerings which tend to be a good bargain. I have signed up for a CSA this summer for produce and eggs, we are looking into a beef share, and I am joining an organic foods co-op…. so who knows, when we’re up for renewal this fall we may be ready to say good-bye.

Katharine Barrett-Avendano
Reply

Dude. The politics bit about Costco. Bottom line is the voters allowed the law to change, not Costco. If you have an issue with influence, please consider the voters themselves.

In our state (I live where you do), media is considered rather liberal. So go the voters.

The bigger issue is voters don’t do a lot of brain work before they vote…on much of anything. That is very sad to me.

I always hoped for a fair media, voters who put thought into their decisions rather than voting by party or number of commercials they see on television. What do you think?

dogsordollars
Reply

I’m with you on the responsibility of the voters. Although, I will say with all the money thrown around on misleading PR and advertising, it can be challenging to find the what’s what.

This is part of the reason why I feel its important to vote with my ballot and my bucks. These days the bucks probably matter more than the ballots.

Andi @ MealPlanRescue
Reply

Ironically, in my state just south to you, a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief when that law passed and then started hoping it will come to us soon as well. Costco remains the place where I purchase many things primarily because it’s the least expensive for us. Since my loyalty is to my pocketbook, that’s where I’ll continue to go.

dogsordollars
Reply

Completely understand allegiance to the pocket book. Ditto that. I just can’t forsake my own personal values for said pocket book. It’s the same reason I don’t shop at the other Big Boxes. Low prices are great, but at some point we have to consider the cost. Or at least I do.

Everyone has to question and live with their own decisions though. Not judging anybody here, but Costco.

Andi @ MealPlanRescue
Reply

I agree. And my total allegiance isn’t to my pocketbook. For example, I won’t shop for products that I know were made cruelly to people or animals. However I’ve recently discovered that I may be the only human being without a Political Action Committee, so since I don’t involve myself in politics, I also try not to base my spending decisions on politics.

dogsordollars
Reply

“The only human being without a Political Action Committee”

I love this. And it may very well be true. :)

Kokuanani
Reply

To the person above who referenced Sam’s Club: you DO know, don’t you, that Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart. That’s “Sam Walton,” the “Sam” referred to. Much, MUCH worse politically than Costco.

I live on an island. The fact that there are no “big box stores” here (other than K-Mart) should allow me to feel virtuous. It doesn’t. Those who feel virtuous because they can avoid big box stores HAVE OTHER OPTIONS. On this island, options are few, non-existent or crappy.

Every time I go to the Mainland, I bring home a suitcase or two of items from Trader Joe’s, and, for instance, jars of jam and chutney that DON’T cost $6-$10 each like they do here. I DO shop Costco, but I’m very careful about what I buy.

And BTW, here, at least, shopping an hour prior to closing time results in aisles you could roll a bowling ball down.

If I have to shop in the morning, I do so @ 10:30, the point between initial opening for “premier” business members like me and opening for the general public @ 11. By 10:30, the 10 am frantic early birds have made their way through the seriously undermanned cash registers, the full contingent of cashiers has finally come on duty, the 11 am folks haven’t made it to check-out. It’s a pretty good time.

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